Thursday, July 26, 2007

Panhandler Poetry

One of the things I’ve been doing since traveling the path is collecting signs from the panhandlers I see on Main Street, just south of the Plaza. I like to think of the signs as short poems. Here are three of my favorites.

Remember that tonight is KC Snapshot's second event, Time to Work, 5:30 at the Art Institute. And speaking of poems, here’s one on tonight’s topic--work. Poet Laureate Donald Hall was in Kansas City a few months ago and read this poem at the KC library. They’ve been putting on some outstanding programs, it’s well worth taking a look at the schedule.

Hope to see you tonight.

Ox Cart Man

In October of the year,
he counts potatoes dug from the brown field,
counting the seed, counting
the cellar’s portion out,
and bags the rest on the cart’s floor.

He packs wool sheared in April, honey
in combs, linen, leather
tanned from deerhide,
and vinegar in a barrel
hooped by hand at the forge’s fire.

He walks by his ox’s head, ten days
to Portsmouth Market, and sells potatoes,
and the bag that carried potatoes,
flaxseed, birch brooms, maple sugar, goose
feathers, yarn.

When the cart is empty he sells the cart.
When the cart is sold he sells the ox,
harness and yoke, and walks
home, his pockets heavy
with the year’s coin for salt and taxes,

and at home by fire’s light in November cold
stitches new harness
for next year’s ox in the barn,
and carves the yoke, and saws planks
building the cart again.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Creativity, Culture and Community

Not all decisions are rational. While this statement goes against conventional wisdom and MBA-think, it's true. In fact, most decisions are first made at an emotional level, then rationalized. Such was the case when we began thinking about purchasing a building in the Crossroads.

I own an advertising agency — Meers Advertising. For the past 13 years, we leased office space in the River Market area. We loved the River Market. It had restaurants, apartments and vibrancy. We loved our building — the original Water Building in Kansas City. It had wonderful history and a story to tell. It became part of our company culture.

But there was something missing in the River Market. It had history, but it lacked glue. There were a few creative firms, but very few opportunities to see one another. There was a fledgling River Market Merchants Association, but it seemed to lack the focus to turn the area into a community.

As we neared the end of our lease, we began looking to purchase a building. It was time. After spending close to $500,000 in rent over the past five years with no equity to show for it, purchasing a building seemed like the rational thing to do. And, as I said above, there was some emotion driving the decision. I mean, I can think of a lot of things I would rather do with $500,000 than pay rent.

But there was a deeper issue than the money. There was the desire to be part of a community. A desire to be in a neighborhood that was moving forward. We wanted an opportunity to be part of the conversation, to understand the challenges and take an active role in helping the community grow and prosper.

We looked at buildings in the River Market, in downtown and even thought about building on the Central West Side. But the Crossroads kept drawing us back. We saw the Crossroads as the creative heart of the city. And as an ad agency, we couldn't see why we would look anyplace else.

Could we have purchased and renovated a building in Midtown? Yes. 39th Street or Westport? Certainly. But the Crossroads had the right mix of creativity, culture and community. We could grow here. We could be part of an evolving neighborhood.

We purchased the Corona Litho building at 1811 Walnut and renovated it this spring. It is an anchor for our business and a stage for our community involvement. That's what makes this building and opportunity so special.

Monday, July 23, 2007

What does it mean to take a Snapshot?

As the KC Snapshot project has evolved over the course of the last 18 months our definition of “grassroots project” has evolved as well.

We started off embarking on a journey that we hoped could and would reach as broad a swath of Kansas City as possible. The idea was fairly simple… spend a year engaging in wide-ranging public conversations about how we live in Kansas City in 2007. Those conversations would then (hopefully) turn into catalysts for future discourse, and ultimately action. Inform, enlighten, inspire, empower.

People often ask about the point of the project… “so, why are you doing this project?”… “what is the deliverable”…”are you building anything?”. Fair questions to be sure - and we knew the answer was in there (somewhere).

That answer is slowly coming into focus.

The KC Snapshot project is a component project of the AIA150 initiative being undertaken by the American Institute of Architects on a national level to recognize and, in part, celebrate the 150th anniversary of the professional organization. The AIA has empowered the local chapters to undertake grassroots community outreach projects that would be meaningful for their local communities.

With that goal in mind, our vision for KC Snapshot emerged. If you think about acknowledging the history and legacy of the AIA, and what the profession has become in that 150 years, it seems the common thread would have to be advocacy for the quality of the built environment.

However, in 2007, advocating for a quality built environment can be an incredibly complicated, and sometimes nebulous, endeavor. What does that really mean as far individual, corporate or municipal action?

That’s what we want to talk about. You can’t have a rational discussion about the current condition of the built environment without first paying attention to the built environment… without taking a SNAPHOT.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Event 2: TIME TO WORK - JULY 26

Thursday, July 26

Epperson Auditorium, Kansas City Art Institute
5:30-6:00 – Reception
6:00-7:30 – Discussion

A map of the campus, and available parking, can be downloaded from the Events section on the Snapshot website.

The second public forum, entitled Time to Work, examines how we define “work” in Kansas City, and how our workplaces in turn define us. Our individual efforts to make a living have shaped the built environment of Kansas City perhaps more than any other societal trend. Are we fully aware of the consequences of our choices? How are the decisions we make as individuals, businesses and organizations regarding how and where we work affecting how we interact with the built environment and each other? Bottom line: when it comes to working in Kansas City: what’s working and what’s not? A diverse panel of local and regional leaders will bring a wealth of experience to the table, and our audience will be encouraged to share their stories and concerns.


Wayne Cauthen: City Manager, City of Kansas City Missouri
Barrett Hatches: President/CEO, Swope Health Services
Reed Kroloff: Director, Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum
Cydney Millstein: Architectural Historian based in Kansas City
Richard Wetzel, AIAJE Dunn Construction, President-elect AIA Kansas City

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sunday In The Park - Path Present

Frank A. Theis Park, July 17, 2007

Friday, June 22, 2007

Amos Family

Mike and I had an incredible visit with Gene and Margaret Amos, of the Amos Family Funeral home on Johnson Drive, one of the very few remaining independent funeral homes along the path. Gene has been very invested in local history and has written records of his family history, anecdotes from his life in the mortuary business, and has contributed to StoryCorps efforts to document the oral histories throughout the United States.

Gene has an incredible wealth of knowledge of the history of Shawnee, particularly regarding its growth into into the diversified suburb that it is today. One thing that caught my attention was his reference to the ongoing international corporatization of the funeral business.

This is from USA Funeral Homes online:
In recent years, there has been a growing and alarming trend toward consolidation in the funeral home industry. Many neighborhood funeral homes thought to be locally owned, are often owned by a national, publicly-traded corporation, which can lead to more standardized but perhaps less personal service from a business that may be more dependent upon and responsible to the investment community than the local community.

I'd assumed this would be the last industry that would shift from local to international control. There are signs however that the few remaining locally-owned funeral homes are prevailing.

For now, Amos continues to be managed by the family in its original stately location in downtown Shawnee.

Further reading.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Photograph - Race Politics Art

Last week in The Star our new mayor challenged Kansas Citians to compare two intersections of our city: 27th & Prospect and 63rd & Brookside. I could picture 63rd & Brookside but to be honest 27th & Prospect was not a place I could see in my mind. So even thought it’s off the path I thought the mayor had a good idea. Here are pictures of those two intersections (click on the picture to see it larger).

27th & Prospect

63rd & Brookside

As Mayor Funkhouser said-
“I don’t know a lot about race relations, but I do know it ought to be better. I know racism is a huge problem. What I do know about is how to run a city. It ought to be as attractive, as safe and as nice at 27th and Prospect as anywhere else in the city. And the majority community as well as the minority community will move better when that’s fixed.”

I have to give credit to the artist, Matt Wycoff, former Kansas Citian now living in Brooklyn, for helping to keep the question of race and our city so present in my mind. His bold project of training as a white male for a marathon in some of our poorest neighborhoods tells much about race relations in our city. Starting in the spring of 2002 Matt began his training-

“I executed this action over a period of four months from the beginning of May to the end of August 2002. As is to be expected with almost anything of this nature reactions varied from disturbing and obvious to reassuring and depressing. In the beginnings verbal and physical abuse was prevalent and it was apparent that aspects of these communities harbored obvious frustration towards whites. During the course of these four months I was the object of close to two hundred verbal attacks and three physical attacks. I was jeered at, laughed at, spit on, kicked, chased, pushed, swerved at by cars and told to; “Get the ---- out of my neighborhood”. I was the target of thrown bottles and rocks, and I was warned several times about being seriously hurt or killed if I continued this action. I met several children that asked for my assistance in various things from pulling a bike from a ditch to coming up with rap lyrics. I was accused of being a narcotics officer. I received over thirty smiles from strangers. I was intimidated into smoking a cigarette on a street corner and chased by a group of young men waiting for the bus. I was a participant in nearly twenty five friendly waves and was the recipient of a hand shake from a skeptical, but good natured, man at a garage... My integration into these areas was minimal but sustained. I came to be familiar with several people and groups as I passed almost every day through their neighborhoods. The verbal and physical attacks directed towards me went down substantially and the amount of friendly gestures went up as the project continued....”

My suggestion for the mayor would be to try and talk Matt into being his driver for a while, whatever car Funk chooses to drive.

Check out Matt’s web site for the complete story.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Shifting Sands - Path Present

Shawnee Mission Beach Volleyball
, 19800 Johnson Drive

Each night during the summer between 800 and a thousand people play volleyball here.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Friday Photograph - Path Past?

The perfect $100,000 house?
Diamaxion House, adapted corn bin, built by Butler Brothers, Kansas City. Designed by R. Buckminister Fuller, 1941

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Pie Town to Chi-town

The history of photography is full of great pairings of a photographer and a city. Eugene Atget spent most of his adult life photographing Paris and its surroundings. In America in the 1930's WPA photographers produced some great pictures of cities, often spending relatively short amounts of time in each place. If Walker Evans is the best known of that group Russell Lee's pictures of the small New Mexico town, Pie Town, are among my favorites.

We in the midwest have a unique example of a city/photographer combination in the Chicago pictures of Art Sinsabaugh. Sinsabaugh came to Chicago in 1946 to study at the Institute of Design (founded in 1937 by former Bauhaus teacher Laszlo Moholy-Nage). In the early 1960's, while teaching at the University of Illinois,Champaign, he started on his Chicago Landscape Group using a newly acquired banquet camera. A huge camera that produced a 12x20 inch negative and made prints with extraordinary clarity and richness.

The project was a collaboration with the Chicago Planning department - and what a partnership it was...

"I loved working in Chicago. We essentially made a trade. City Planning gave me the official authority to gain access to buildings, stop traffic, raise bridges, use city boats and helicopters, in exchange for prints, and a small amount of money. I felt as if the whole city were mine."

Sinsabaugh has connections to Kansas City and even to the Path. As a graduate student at U of I in the 80's I was lucky enough to spend a year studying with him and he was a major influence on me. The closer connection to the path is that the definitive book on Art's photography was written by someone who works on the path--Keith Davis, now curator of photography at the Nelson. Part of my excitement about the Nelson opening this week will be the chance to see the much expanded collection of American photography at the museum. Congratulations Keith!

P.S. The New Yorker web site has an amazing set of photographs of the new Steven Holl addition to the Nelson by David Allee.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Path Present

Friday, June 1, 2007

Old Shawnee highlights

These activities are weekend long in the Living History Area North of the Bandstand

Kid's Urban Planning at Box City
Children are invited to help Shawnee create community connections. Box City is an activity in which children alter boxes to “construct” businesses, houses, stores, public facilities and farms to create a community. The children design, decorate and place their building in an appropriate location within the miniature city limits area. Boxes and art materials are provided.

Buffalo Soldiers

The Greater Kansas City-Leavenworth Area Chapter 9th and 10th Calvary Association will educate visitors about the courage and endurance of the first black volunteer soldiers after the Civil War. Display items include regimental memorabilia, books, video tapes, posters and historical photos of Calvary soldiers.

Civil War Surgeon

John Duggan and his Civil War surgeons will enlighten the crowds with his knowledge of the Civil War and the lifestyles of the era. They will focus their presentation on surgical skills used during the war and the important role that doctors played. This staged operation is not for the faint of heart!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Friday Photograph - Path Past

Courtesy Johnson County Museum

Parade, 1954
Johnson Drive

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Old Shawnee Days

Is this weekend, the 31st to the 3rd. Too many things to do and see. Highlights are the parade, baby contest, historical recreations such as the Civil War surgeon, and surely the Rhinestone Ropers:

Old Shawnee Days website

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sam Rose, Evangelist - Path Present

Sam Rose has pitched his revival tent at 4901 Truman Road. From May 20 until June 10 he will hold nightly revivals at 7:00 pm. Sam is a second generation evangelist, his wife Julia is third generation. They have been living on the road, traveling in their bus doing tent revivals for over 20 years. When Sam sets up the tent by himself, like he did here, it takes a full day. Each support spike requires 8 blows with a sledge hammer to set it deep enough so the wind can't collapse the tent.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Friday Photograph - Path Past

Courtesy Johnson County Museum

House Moving, 1955
5328 Johnson Drive, Mission Kansas

Downtown Shawnee

Mike and I visited Joseph Lino on Monday and toured his SPECTACULAR condo on Johnson Drive in downtown Shawnee. This is the first new building in downtown since 1986 and he is preparing for another project on the same block that will house 26,000 square feet of commercial and residential space.

Joe and others are now moving quickly to improve the downtown area as Shawnee moves ever westward. In 2002 the city initiated downtown partnership aiming to reinvent the environment and improve its specific economy. Here are the design guidelines.

Additionally, the new downtown pool, Splash Cove opens this weekend!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tamales to Go

I think Ryan and I may have found the place to get food for the event... we ate lunch yesterday at Coyoacan on Merriam Drive. As the sign says, they have Tamales to Go!, and we can buy them by the dozen. I have to give Josh credit for the recommendation (and I think Josh heard about it from Mike)... so maybe Mike really deserves all the credit.

Ryan and I can voutch for the quality of the tamales, and it's hard to find food packaging more sustainable than corn husk.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Guest Photographer - Laura Spencer

A couple of week ago Laura Spencer from KCUR radio came out with me to photograph along the path (thanks, Laura!). Here are Laura's pictures of the first place we stopped, the remarkable alligator house on Independence Avenue. I learned about it years ago when I found a copy of Kansas City, A Place in Time, a guidebook published by the Landmarks Commission in 1977. Whenever I'm in that area I drive by, and what's remarkable is how little it has changed over the years. I was sorry to see the alligators had recently been painted a bright green, but I guess one shouldn't be a purist about vernacular architecture.

Here's what the guide had to say...

"A rustic cottage, deceivingly constructed with alligators flanking the front steps, came from the imagination of the builder and owner, William C. Howard. The house was remodeled in this manner in 1918 to include the simulation of logs in the upper level."

I have 3 guidebooks about Kansas City architecture, A Place In Time is the oldest (and the only one that listed the alligator house). Two years later in 1979 the Kansas City AIA published a guide simply called Kansas City, which had the oddly chosen cover photo of a prairie landscape probably taken 100 miles from here. In 2000, KC AIA published a much expanded guide based on the '79 book. It also included a survey of local public art and had a chapter called the People's Choice Awards that gave the results of Kansas Citians' vote for their favorite landmarks. Interesting that just like the recent national AIA's America's Favorite Architecture you voted from a pre-selected list. Perhaps they wanted to make sure the new, gaudy casinos that had popped up in recent years didn't win.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Meet the Panelists

The first KC Snapshot event entitled "Time to Live" is coming up on May 30.
This event is intended to be a public conversation about how we live in Kansas City today - specifically, how the character and composition of our homes and our neighborhoods can and does influence our daily lives.

We will be joined by a small panel of local, regional and national professionals who will lead the conversation. Below are brief biographies of our invited guests which include links to their own websites.

Karrie Jacobs, the founding editor of Dwell magazine, who has recently turned her attention to writing piquant commentary about architecture and the way we all live in our homes and cities. She is a regular contributor to Metropolis and is the author of The Perfect $100,000 House.

Robert Bruegmann, chair of the Department of Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Robert also teaches in the School of Architecture and the Program in Urban Planning. He is the author of Sprawl: A Compact History, a compelling look that rises above the rhetoric surrounding sprawl and evaluates the history of city growth and its true impacts.

Dan Rockhill is the principal of the Architecture firm Rockhill and Associates and is a professor at the University of Kansas School of Architecture. He is the progenitor of the graduate design school Studio 804 and is responsible for several contemporary residential designs in and around Lawrence, Kansas and the Kansas City Metropolitan Area.

Cyd Millstein has published numerous articles, both locally and nationally, on architectural and preservation-oriented issues. She has also served as assistant editor for the Society of Architectural Historians Newsletter, editor of the SAH Missouri Valley Chapter's Newsletter and architecture critic for The Kansas City Business Journal. Ms. Millstein's firm, Architectural & Historical Research, LLC, was founded in 1983. From 1997-2000, she was a member of the Board of Trustees for the National Association for Olmsted Parks. In 1995-1996, she served as president of the Missouri Valley Chapter Society of Architectural Historians.

The Birds of the Turkey Creek Festival

Hesse and I attended the annual Merriam Turkey Creek Festival this last weekend while he was in town. We were graciously hosted by Irene B. French, the former mayor of Merriam, who gave us a tour of the fesival and introduced us to several residents including current council members and the current mayor, Carl Wilkes.

Living up to it's name, upon entering the grounds we immediately encountered turkey... that is, a turkey sandwich being eaten by rather large, very colorful bird.
We also found a boy scout troop selling turkey legs. Needless to say, Hesse and I both got one. We will have to settle for a photo of the legs in the tray, but the photo I wish I had was of the carcass that was left once Hesse got done cleaning every piece of meat from his.
Hesse was able to make several good contacts along the way that were interested in the project and talking with him.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Turkey Creek Festival

This saturday is Merriam's annual Turkey Creek Festival. It is at Antioch Park, running all day. Park at the Irene B. French Community Center, City Hall, Merriam Town Center (Johnson Drive & Antioch) or Shawnee Mission Medical Center and take a free shuttle to the Antioch Park. Events include pancake breakfast, 5k run, arts and crafts show, concerts, pony rides and petting zoo, kids inflatable games and a large parade. Fun for all.

Friday Photograph - Path Past

Plaza Tennis Courts - 1950
From the collection of the Kansas City Missouri Public Library

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Time To Live - Panelists

Dan Rockhill has agreed to be our fourth panelist for the "Time to Live" forum. One of his concerns which I thought was a good one had to do with placing the panelist's into a context for the forum. Given that we are looking for Dan to provide his insight into residential architecture with both, his experiences in practice and his experience with leading Studio 804 , how do get the public that are attending the forum up to speed on Dan's work so that they are engaged in the dialogue. The answer I believe is to allow each of the panelist's five minutes to introduce themselves and to place themselves in the context of the discussion. For Dan this would include some images of his and Studio 804's work, we need to ask what Karrie, Robert and Cyd would like to include for themselves. Would also be beneficial to get them a list of potential questions or discussion topics prior to the forum, so they are prepared and maybe even able to provide graphic examples that we could have available for them to use.

P.S. Studio 804 is having an open house for the latest house this Saturday from 10 - 2. Check out for the address.

Satchel Paige, Aunt Freda and Woody Allen

When I started thinking about photographing along the KC Snapshot path (get a path map here) I made a list of pictures I wanted to take. First was a picture of the house I grew up in. And second was the Satchel Paige Memorial Stadium. As a kid I was a huge baseball fan. I learned to love the game from my Aunt Freda. Whenever I stayed at her house during the summer we'd sit out on her screened-in porch and listen to our team, the Kansas City Athletics, on the radio. I'd drink coke and she'd have her can of Schlitz beer that she poured into a small juice glass. She and my Uncle would tell me baseball stories, and the ones about Satchel Paige were favorites--his pitching styles, his rules to live by.
Woody Allen, a hero of mine, named one of his children Satchel after Satchel Paige, and has written eloquently about his memories of the famous pitcher:

'Satchel Paige was a hero of mine. I was a great baseball fan and it was fun when Satchel Paige emerged into the big leagues. By then he was way, way past his prime. But all that prejudice, and all that racial bigotry in the United States, which has been one of the hallmarks of our country since its inception, robbed America of seeing an athlete who may have been comparable to Michael Jordan in his time. So we only got to enjoy Satchel Paige in the last years of his professional career, when he got into the big leagues, because in the Negro Leagues you wouldn't have heard of him. But if we hadn't had such a thing as a Negro League, and if black players had always been in sports, sports would have been much, much richer and we would have seen Satchel Paige in his prime. It's our loss.'

Satchel Paige died June 8, 1982 in Kansas City and is buried here in Forest Park Cemetery.

Mike Sinclair

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

KC Snapshot kick off

This site is intended as a public record of the activity and content of the year-long experiment we are undertaking: The Kansas City SNAPSHOT project.